The court or your attorney has advised you that your case has been scheduled for mediation. Now what? Hopefully you have also been given some information regarding mediation generally and what to expect during your first mediation session. Even armed with this information, you still may be wondering: What should I do now? How can I prepare? What will happen?
Below we have laid out six simple tips for preparing for your first mediation session. If you are already represented by counsel, it is very likely that your attorney will work with you to prepare the necessary documents for mediation. If you are currently unrepresented though, you may find these tips especially helpful.
1. Come with relevant and organized financial documents. In Georgia, it is a requirement that both parties in domestic relations matters such as divorce, child custody or child support matters complete a Domestic Relations Financial Affidavit (DFRA), outlining all income and expenses, and submit it to the court as well as the opposing party. Not only should you ensure you bring a completed DRFA to mediation, but you should also bring any relevant financial documents to substantiate your DRFA as well. Such documents include: bank account, mutual fund, brokerage account, and retirement fund records; real estate documents, vehicle payment and registration information, marital business records, and stock information. Additionally, you should have the most recent balances of all bank accounts and retirement funds as well as the current balance and monthly payments on your mortgage and home equity loans, all credit cards and other loans, such as student loans or loans against retirement funds and car loans.
2. Try to maintain control of your emotions. Mediation is, above all, a negotiation process. Heated emotions are very common during mediations concerning divorce or other family law related issues. Although common, and understandable, failure to keep a reign on your emotions will not allow you to have the clear head you need during the negations and may actually become a hinderance in the process.
3. Be prepared to negotiate. Resist the urge to argue. With the above point in mind, come to mediation in the mindset to listen to the other parties point of view and respond with your own in an effort to reach a conclusion. Mediation is a forward looking process aimed at resolving the issues between the parties. The past is the past. It cannot be changed. Thus, using mediation to simply argue about or rehash the history would serve to be terribly unproductive. So the first question to ask yourself is: What do I want? Once you determine your ultimate goal, work together with your attorney and the mediator to try to accomplish what you are looking for.
4. Ensure you and your attorney have the same goal in mind. It is important to know what your rights are, and to get legal advice from your attorney if you are represented. But, if you feel that your attorney is steering you towards litigation or down a part that is more adversarial than what you are looking for, it is perfectly acceptable to seek alternative counsel. Before you take any major steps in your matter, ensure that you and your attorney are working together towards a common goal.
5. Come with a planned budget. Before you will be able to request a specific amount of support such as alimony, it is important to know exactly how much you actually need. This principal applies in the opposite situation as well. Negations will go much easier if both parties are aware of what they need and/or what they are able to pay. In order to accomplish this, constructing a realistic budget will be necessary. Base your budget on concrete expenses, and bring it to mediation with you. Your DRFA may service to be particularly useful in constructing such a budget, as it already requires each party to record monthly income and expenses.
6. Be aware of your rights and possible obligations. Finally, prior to your first mediation session, educate yourself as much as possible. Gather information. Read more articles and books. Request an additional meeting with you attorney if necessary. Above all, ensure that you are fully aware of all of the possibilities and options available to you, as well as the obligation that you may be required to fulfill upon the conclusion of your case.